SANTA ROSA, CAMERON COUNTY - The Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc. fired up the only sugar mill in Texas, and began its 41st consecutive year of harvesting sugar cane grown by the Valley’s 123 sugar cane farmers.
The mill’s 478 employees harvest Valley sugar cane fields that stretch from as far south as Olmito, about as far north as Raymondville, and as far west as just past the Starr County line. The industry provides employment to around 1,000 local families if sugar mill employees, sugar cane growers and their employees are all accounted for.
“We produce from $80 million to $100 million in revenue, most of which is spent in the Valley,” said Randy Rolando, president and CEO of RGV Sugar Growers. “It turns over four or five times in the (Texas) economy, so you gotta realize you are potentially dealing with a half a billion dollars in economic effect with the mill...”
The past several years have been good for the industry, but the price for sugar is lower than in recent years and the crop has been affected by drought. Recent rainfall has helped alleviate some drought conditions; however, farmers have been reluctant to plant new cane because of limited water resources.
Because of the drought, mill experts said this year they expect to fall about 25,000 tons short of the average 150,000 tons of raw sugar produced annually, a cost differential of about $10.5 million. “Prices are lower than last year. Right now sugar is at about 21 cents per pound, so it’s hard for us to break even at those levels,” said Rolando.
Sugar prices have dropped largely due to overproduction by other sugar cane growing countries, according to Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Experts at Texas A&M AgriLife Research are working toward developing a freeze resistant sugar cane variety and a drought resistant variety to help alleviate potential money loss concerns by farmers.
Texas is one of four states in the United States where sugar cane is grown, and it is all grown within 50 miles of the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers’ mill. Other sugar cane producing states are Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii.
Read more at the Valley Morning Star.
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